August 14 marks the 73rd year of Pakistan's founding. It seems as if history has completed a full circle: the country is finally discovering the secular roots of its origin, as articulated by its founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Pakistan has an ambivalent relationship with Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister of India. There was abated enthusiasm when he first came to power in 2014, a hope that his arrival might augur a friendlier relationship. Nawaz Sharif was then the Prime Minister of Pakistan, his initial popularity in the late 1980s and 1990s premised on right-wing Muslim nationalism. Though perhaps Nawaz Sharif’s politics by 2014 had moved towards the centre, with the rise of Modi and BJP there was a reminiscence of 1999, when the BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had visited Pakistan and signed the Lahore Declaration. This had signaled a warming of the relationship between the two countries.
Nawaz Sharif was Prime Minister of Pakistan then as well. There was an expectation of a similar relationship between Nawaz Sharif and Modi, the two right-wing politicians finding common ground in their populist politics.
During the 2019 elections in India, Prime Minister Imran Khan, another populist, also expressed a similar sentiment. He called Modi the best hope for an improvement of the India-Pakistan relationship.
Fast-forward to 2020 and the situation seems quite different. The political situation in Kashmir is worse than it has been in the past few decades - first came the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) of 2019 that many had seen as an attack on the Muslim minority of India, and more recently, the construction of the Ram Temple over the site of Babri Masjid. It seems as if India and Pakistan are as far away from each other as ever.
There also seems to be a popular perception that the countries are now heading in opposite directions, with India moving towards religious nationalism - having abandoned its secular traditions enshrined in its constitution, while Pakistan, repudiating its religio-nationalism, becoming more secular, even if the word ‘secular’ continues to remain a taboo in mainstream politics. While the rights of the Muslim minority in India were being threatened through the CAA, via the annexation of Kashmir, as well as the legitimatisation of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Pakistan was all the while planning the inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor and the construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad.
On the eve of the 73rd year of Partition that marks the birth of these two countries, it seems as if history has completed a full circle, with Pakistan finally discovering the secular roots of its origin, as they were articulated by the founder of the country, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Furthermore, with the increasing Hinduisation of the Indian State, there seems to be an increased legitimacy rendered to the creation of an independent country for the Muslims of South Asia. As Hindu majoritarianism sweeps through India, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and his demand for Pakistan, seems greater than ever, foresighted and justified.
While these narratives have gained currency in recent times, they are simplistic and much more useful for propaganda rather than a serious evaluation of the states of nationalism in India and Pakistan. The first premise of the narrative is that India was a genuinely ‘secular’ country and is now being rapidly transformed by Hindu nationalism. This is a problematic assertion and scholarly work has shown the preponderance of Hindu nationalism that existed beneath the façade of secularism. Academic Vazira Zamindar, in her remarkable book, The Long Partition, has shown how Indian citizenship, immediately after independence, came to be associated with Hindus and Sikhs, with the local Muslim population seen as ‘potential’ Pakistani citizens. Christophe Jafferlot and Laurent Gayer’s equally brilliant book, Muslim in Indian Cities, highlights the ghettoisation of Muslim dominated settlements among Indian citizens before the rise of ‘Hindu nationalism’. It is through this association of Indian citizenship with Hindus and Sikhs, and the marginalisation of the Muslim communities, that one has to understand the recent Citizenship Amendment Act, passed by the BJP government.
Before Ram Mandir and the Babri Masjid, there was the Somnath Temple and Mahmud Ghazanvi. Like the Ram Mandir, which is believed to have been destroyed by the Mughal King, Babur to make way for the Babri Masjid, the Somnath Temple was believed to have been raided and attacked by the 11th century Muslim King, Mahmud Ghaznvi. In Hindu nationalist historiography, both represented the historical injustice committed against the Hindu population by Muslim Kings, which needs to be corrected. 73 years before construction of the Ram Mandir began in Ayodhya, the Deputy Prime Minister of India, Sardar Patel, ordered the reconstruction of the Somnath Temple. The projection of the Somnath Temple as a physical evidence of the destruction of Muslim ‘invaders’ is similar to the narrative that developed around Ram Mandir and the Babri Masjid. There is much continuity in these 73 years, which is usually ignored.
On the other hand, the recent projection of Pakistan, as ‘secular’ in contrast to a ‘Hindu’ India, remains as problematic. While an argument can be made that the State has made important symbolic gestures in the past few years, they are done so without addressing the structures that continue to associate Pakistani citizenship with a Muslim identity.
The Islamisation of the Pakistani State is well documented. While it is usually the military dictator, Zia-ul-Haq, who is held responsible for it, it is in fact a process that began with the inception of the State. Pakistani nationalism and citizenship became synonymous with Muslim nationalism, with the non-Muslims of the country largely perceived as second-class citizens. These recent news worthy events are meant to challenge this perception, however in reality, they are unaccompanied by the required structural changes that continue to privilege Muslim citizens over others.
For example, the Pakistani educational curriculum continues to align Pakistani nationalism with a Muslim identity, something which is reinforced by the recently approved Single National Curriculum. This came soon after the government made the teaching of the Quran compulsory in all the universities in the Punjab, the largest and the most powerful province of the country. Just a few months after implementing this rule, the Punjab government passed the Tahaffuz-e-Bunyad-e-Islam Act, which gave the government the power to ban any book or publication it deems ‘anti-Islam’ or ‘anti-Pakistan’. Thus, while it is easy to assume that Pakistan might be in the process of becoming more ‘secular’ the situation on the ground reflects a greater Islamisation of the state institution, a process that it seems was never really challenged.
73 years after the creation of India and Pakistan, both the countries continue to be mirror images, with each using the other to justify itself. For India, Pakistan remains the spectre of an Islamic and Muslim threat, a reminder of a brutal history that needs to be rectified, thus fanning Hindu nationalism. For Pakistan, this Hindu nationalism, becomes a self-justification, an explanation for the reason the country came to birth and why it continues to align Pakistani nationalism with Muslim nationalism. Thus, even when they seem to be at their most different, they both are products of the same framework, more like each other than either would dare to acknowledge.
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